2007 Mazda3 S TouringPosted on September 20th, 2007
Five doors, four passengers, and a dollop of boogie
By Nina Russin
Anything that costs close to a year’s salary should bring its owner more pleasure than the average appliance. The engineers at Mazda understand that. Even their least expensive cars are proof that practicality and fun are not mutually exclusive. The Mazda3 hatchback, priced from $17,580, holds four passengers, averages thirty miles-per-gallon, and gives the driver something to smile about.
The model that debuted in 2003 got an update this year: better low-end power, fresh styling, and a more refined interior. The test car is the upscale S grade with one option: a moonroof and six-CD changer.
The five-door Mazda3 comes standard with a 2.3-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. Both four- and five-door models are front-wheel drive, with standard four-wheel disc brakes and independent suspension. Standard antilock brakes, dynamic stability control, side and side curtain airbags make Mazda’s best value a very safe car as well.
Variable valve timing gives the four-cylinder engine exceptional gas mileage: about thirty miles-per-gallon. The updated engine also has great pickup: it’s especially noticeable accelerating onto the highway, and passing at speed. The manual transmission has a light clutch and wide-range gears for easier stop-and-go driving. It shifts smoothly, with no obvious gear lash.
Seventeen-inch wheels provide a wide, stable footprint. The addition of front and rear stabilizer bars makes the car corner on rails. The 2007 models have a stiffer body structure that improves steering response at speed. Emergency maneuvers on the freeway feel completely safe. Independent four-wheel suspension gives both rows of passengers a comfortable ride.
The Mazda3 has a low stance: ground clearance is under five inches. The low center of gravity improves the car’s high-speed handling, but makes it impractical off-road. Graded dirt roads should not be a problem, but anything more would be a reach.
Engineers revised the front suspension to reduce understeer. I didn’t notice any pushing, even at high speeds. The weather throughout the test was dry, so I didn’t have a chance to drive the car on wet roads. A standard rear wiper improves rear visibility in rain and snow.
Spacious cabin with a versatile cargo bay
The Mazda3 holds four adults and their belongings: three across the back seat is a squeeze. Both front seats have manual adjustments. A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable position.
I was happy to see center bolsters in the front seats. They hold the passengers in place without irritating pressure points as side bolsters do. The seatbacks in both rows have good lower back support. Standard cloth upholstery is attractive and more comfortable in the hot southwestern summer.
Visibility is excellent all the way around the car. Power side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots to the rear. The driver sits high enough to have good forward visibility. Redundant audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel minimize distraction.
All cars come pre-wired for Sirius satellite radio: a feature I can’t say enough good things about. There are enough choices of commercial-free music, news, sports and weather to keep me occupied on a long road trip without adding my own music. Those who want to bring their own tunes can use the MP3 plug-in, located in a bin under the front armrest.
The air conditioner cools the car down quickly, even in extreme heat. I started the car up several times in the hottest part of the day, with temperatures well above 110-degrees Fahrenheit: the car was comfortable within five minutes. The audio and climate controls are easy to reach from both front seats.
The glovebox is exceptionally large and deep: it has enough room to hold a small purse or pack. The bin in the center console will also hold a small pack or compact discs. There is a small cubby to the side of the parking brake for putting a cell phone or PDA. There are two, twelve-volt power points up front: one in the center bin, and one at the base of the center stack.
All four passengers have cup- and bottle holders: the bottle holders are in the doors, while cupholders are in the center console and rear armrest. The optional moonroof lets more ambient light into the back of the car.
Bike-friendly cargo bay with a secret storage area
The second-row seats are easy to fold flat using levers to the outside of the seatbacks. It is not necessary to take off the headrests or remove the seat cushions, so the Mazda3 easily meets out bike-friendly standards. A standard tonneau cover hides items in the rear. Four tie-down loops on the floor make large cargo easy to secure. Cargo nets and additional cargo trays are available as factory options.
A light to the right to the right of the tailgate makes it easier to load up after dark. Smaller storage bins under the cargo floor are great for people who need to stash valuables at the trailhead.
The tailgate release is located in a recess under the lower lip: a design change for the new model. Because the car is less than five feet tall, it’s also easy to load cargo up top. The Mazda3 doesn’t come with roof rails, nor are they available as an option. But cargo tracks on the rood should make it easy to install an aftermarket rack.
The Mazda3’s sporty styling was a hit among runners at the shop. The angular front grille with standard halogen headlamps makes the car stand out around bigger vehicles. Redundant side signal lights protect the driver in dense traffic. Side sill extensions and a rear liftgate spoiler are standard on the S grade.
Price on the test car is $20,340 including delivery charges, putting the Mazda 3 well under our $30,000 cap for best value vehicles. With its high level of standard comfort and safety features, the Mazda3 is a lot of car for the money. The sporty five-door model is stylish and fun to drive. Its small size makes it an ideal choice for city dwellers that like to head out on the trails over the weekend. The eco-friendly Mazda meets the federal PZEV super-low emissions standards.
Likes: A great value, the Mazda3 combines sporty performance with a spacious interior, versatile cargo area and a high level of standard safety features. It has excellent ride and handling characteristics at all speeds, gets good fuel economy, and makes four passengers feel as if they’re riding in a much bigger car.
Dislikes: Roof rails are not available as a factory option.
Base price: $18,425
Price as tested: $20,340
Horsepower: 151 Hp @ 6500 r.p.m.*
Torque: 149 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 r.p.m.
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 26/33 m.p.g. city/highway
Comments: *Engine specifications are for the PZEV low-emissions model.
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